American basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will visit Israel in July and meet with Rabbi Israel Meir Lau to discuss a film that he is making about World War II, the rabbi said recently.Rabbi Lau was the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1993-2003.
The film is based on the book "Brothers in Arms", which Abdul-Jabbar co-authored and deals with the American troops who liberated Nazi concentration camps in the end of World War II. Abdul-Jabbar's own father served on the 761st Tank Battalion, which liberated the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Germany.
Among the Jews rescued from the camp were two children: Rabbi Lau and his brother, Naftali Lavie. Abdul-Jabbar and Lau met for the first time 14 years ago, during the former's first visit to Israel.
"The fact that such a famous basketball player, and a Muslim, is about to attach himself to the Holocaust issue is very exciting," he said. "I will certainly give my blessing to this initiative."
The retired athlete will arrive early in July as a guest of the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Consulate in New York, and will participate in the Jerusalem Film Festival, where he will present the basketball documentary that he produced, "On the Shoulders of Giants."
Lau said that Abdul-Jabbar's father, Ferdinand L. Alcindor, had a dying wish: "That his son visit Israel, and meet the little boy that he rescued from Buchenwald and turned into a prominent rabbi."
Lau said he clearly remembers how an African American solider came up to him during the liberation, picked him up, and told the residents of the German city of Weimer: "Look at this sweet kid, he isn't even eight yet. This was your enemy, he threatened the Third Reich. He is the one against whom you waged war, and murdered millions like him."
Decades later, Lau said, his rescuer's son found him.